Lessons from Undercover Boss Australia 2. PR for a purpose, making surveys count, being interested.

I wrote last week that despite some flaws inherent in the ‘factual television’ format, there is a lot communicators and leaders can learn from Undercover Boss Australia. Episode one highlighted the benefit of finding opportunities to listen to employees.

Undercover Boss (Australia) is interesting for three reasons.

  • It has the potential to be good reality TV based on human drama and conflict (resolution).
  • It is a variation on the public relations approach of using factual TV as part of a campaign for awareness of the featured organisation (Airline, Border Security, RPA, etc). The first episode drew 1.3m viewers.
  • And it has the potential  to educate leaders and employees by showing a version of what occurs when an organisation’s operations and its leaders are able to communicate – what can we learn from their culture, choices and approaches.

Veolia Environmental Services’ Head of Operations, Peter Murray was the second boss to go through the process. Murray has over 25 years experience in the waste management business. His undercover experience included riding the garbage truck, sorting refuse for recycling, visiting a subsidiary where waste is converted to energy and working a landfill site. What did we learn from his experience?

When is a public awareness campaign not a public awareness campaign?
As an exercise in public awareness using the factual television format to cover issues for the  organisation, the Veolia episode was particularly effective. Operational efficiency and the employee safety depends in part on households and businesses taking care in how they sort their rubbish from their recycling. This message was illustrated dramatically when the recycling sorting line had to be shut down because of non-recyclable materials, and through the fears of sorter Rachel that she may suffer a needle-stick injury as a result of incorrect disposal.

Getting the most from surveys
In preparing to go undercover, Murray cited responses from a recent employee survey including the comment “The management team does not know what problems staff face in their working lives.” He uses the undercover experience as a way to make real the issues and concerns that have been raised through the survey process. This approach is a valid way of drilling down to the issues that cause the most concern and frustration for employees within organisation. Murray demonstrates the end-to-end approach required for effective use of employee feedback and surveys for them to be an effective driver of engagement, trust and business improvement.

  • Use employee surveys as a barometer
  • Conduct further qualitative face to face discussions to understand the issues
  • Involve employees in developing solutions
  • Reward contribution to solutions (not just participation)
  • Communicate about the actions taken

Constructive leaders show genuine interest
In the reveal, Murray’s feedback to his employees is based on having listened authentically to their circumstances, and the choice of rewards in recognition of their service and participation reflect a genuine interest in them.

Human Performance consulting firm Human Synergistics describe these constructive leadership behaviours as ‘humanistic encouraging’ (focussing on the potential of people, providing support and encouragement) and ‘affiliative’ (developing and sustaining relationships). Their research with a range of organisations demonstrates the impact constructive leadership behaviours have on the overall culture and subsequent sustainable performance of an organisation.

Next week: Will the Boost Juice boss discover just how loud the crews play their music when they are cleaning up?

PR versus HR is the path to extinction

End of TImes Copyright Jon Kudelka

"Evolution is essential". Image copyright Jon Kudelka

I received this tweet today from Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications:

HR Isn’t Dead. It’s Called PR | Blogging4Jobs

The headline is deliberately controversial. I read on. The link is to an article by Jessica Miller-Merrel, in which she clearly outlines the way in which different functions contribute to the reputation and communication context of organisations. However, there is much in the article to fuel the mutual mistrust between these areas. And that has to stop. Thanks to Jessica for a good article, even if a little sensationalist in tone. I hope it is the last.

Here’s why.

(An open letter to HR, PR, Organisational Communication, Organisational Development, Internal Communication, Marketing, Change Management and all other professional groups who contribute to achieving better business results. That goes for you too, IT.)

There is so much hand-wring, introspection, flinging of grenades across the invisible walls (or actual cubicles) in companies. This spills over to the blogosphere. Most of the thousands of ‘hammer HR’ or “pound PR” posts seem to originate from people who have had a bad experience within an organisation, but have been unable to effect change. And, let’s be honest. While that happens sometimes, there is a better way.

When we continue the discourse from these deeply entrenched partisan positions, we weaken the position of all the participants. We perpetuate the stereotypical responses of the past:

* HR people can’t write
* PR just spin things
* IT cost us too much
* OD think this is a cult.

The issues behind these jabs are often real. For example:

* [Insert function] people fail to unable to develop professional partnerships effectively with internal stakeholders.
* PR people unable to develop whole-system thinking, based the myth that they can ‘control the message’.
* OD/Change commence a change that is unsustainable or has insufficient sponsorship to stick, subjecting employees to unfair uncertainty.
* HR people unable to quantify their deliverables in language that speaks to the business.
* The IT solutions blow out in terms of time or budget.

However, these localised shortcomings must be overcome in order for all these contributors to bring their specific body of knowledge, perspectives and solutions to the business. Great results occur when:

* HR attracts, develop and keeps the right people
* HR manages workforce risk effectively
* Internal Communication connects people to the brand and the strategy
* PR promotes the organisation holistically
* Marketing reflects and draws on the workforce in an authentic way
* IT deliver smart fit for purpose solutions

Before perpetuating the divide consider these ideas.

If the energy that was spent on sustaining energy and battle around these self-created issues was spent on improving the business, imagine the value that could be created within organisations.

Spend the time that it takes to read a post critical of another professional discipline on reading one about a business that has developed an innovation program without boundaries, or the business value of collaboration.

Spend the time it takes to write a sh*t-mail to your colleagues ‘over the wall’ to rethink perspectives. What can you do to align perspectives?

At its worst, the tension between these functions is neanderthal stone throwing. Territoriality and an inability to adapt will be the death of any professional species that is unable to continue to transform: to integrate, collaborate and create new value in business.

This is the time to evolve into a hybrid species: professional disciplines that can work across boundaries, can focus on the larger goal, who find new ways of creating value (outcomes) together for the benefit of the organisation.

Are you choosing evolution or extinction?

I have a lot of time for Ragan’s range of communication publications. I have picked up a lot of tips over years of subscription (anyone else remember the mustard colour weekly paper mailout?) and I’m sure Mark intended generating a great discussion with this tweet.